Jimmy McGovern: "It's very hard to be a real socialist"
I must be honest, I’m very envious of my 16-year-old self because I can’t remember a single morning I didn’t wake up with an erection. My life revolved around, what can I do with this? Girls were not, for me, human beings with their own personality and intelligence: girls were somewhere I could shove this thing. Now I’d tell my young self girls are just the same as us, they’re human beings. And actually, their minds are more interesting than their bodies. And my 16-year-old self would say, yeah, thanks for that, now get out of my way.
I don’t think I’d like the 16-year-old Jimmy. He was full of Scouse bravado, so desperate to impress people. I was working in an insurance office then, the most boring job ever. I wanted to let people know I had a brain, that I could have done this or that with my life. If I could do it all again I’d stay on at school, do my exams and go to university. But school failed me.
If I could just tell the younger Jimmy, you will write and earn a good living from it – that would astound him. Not someone from my background. But I knew from a young age that I could write. When I was nine the class was asked to write a composition called Morning in Our House – the best one would win the Weetabix Book of Birds. I was determined to win it, so I thought, what will everyone else write about? Well, I won’t do that. So I wrote a study of my dad shaving. And I won the Weetabix Book of Birds. What joy! I had won something with my writing!
I started writing properly when I came across the Scottie Road writing workshops, via the Merseyside socialist movement. A theatre monologue I wrote landed me a commission with the Everyman Theatre. But if you’d told me then about Brookside, that there would be a soap opera, like Corrie, set in Liverpool, and I’d be writing it, I’d have said, 'Oh please God, let it be true!'
The work that’s come closest to achieving what I set out to achieve is Dockers. We wrote that together with the Liverpool dockers and even though I say it myself, it was a good thing to do. The process was more important than the end product. We gave those men a power that had been robbed from them. And they took control of their story. I always say, don’t call me a socialist – do you know how hard it is to be a real socialist? But you can do socialist things now and then.
I wish I’d known what I know now when I was bringing up my kids. I’d have been less severe. I loved them dearly, but there was a lot of shouting and I wasn’t patient enough. It’s wonderful because I’m a granddad now. I’m an old man with such patience. Having kids does affect your writing – it’s so fundamental, that unconditional love. You’ll do anything, even harbour a killer, which we looked at in the last series of Accused. I think when we’ve done things like that on the series we’ve been at our best.
There are things I’d change if I could do it all again, but – and I don’t mean this in an arrogant way – I am at peace with the man I am. I’m not the best of men, but I’m certainly not the worst of men. If I’d believed I was going to last this long I’d go easier on the booze and fags; one of my real weaknesses in my life was booze. Sometimes I think about death and I feel okay, but sometimes I’m really scared. But I find that I don’t regret anything that made me the man I am now.
In 1965, the year Jimmy McGovern turns 16... The average house in the UK costs £3,600... Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov becomes the first man to walk in space... Cigarette advertising banned on UK television... Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs escapes prison and flees to Brazil...
Series one of Accused is now available on DVD, released by Acorn Media